We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.
Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain. — Pope Francis, Gaudete et exultate
I have read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et exultate, so many times since its publication I have lost count. Each time back, I always discover a fresh set of insights.
It is the the first time the Magisterium has produced a whole document, written in a very accessible style, on the call to holiness (especially) for the laity whose home is the secular world. Certainly other documents have touched the subject, but there has been no single sustained reflection on the stunning development of Vatican II:
All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness, as such, a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society (LG #40).
The “highest” vocational form of Christian life is not consecrated life or ordained ministry, but the call to holiness. All other measurements of vocational height in Christianity, important as they are, submit to the supremacy of love of God-neighbor, which is the soul and summit of holiness. In assessing the holy “heights” of priest, Levite and Samaritan-layman in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus exalts to the highest summit the one who stooped lowest in mercy.
Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave. — Matt. 20:26-27
This is the greatness, to me, of Pope Francis’ exhortation. It democratizes holiness, with his characteristic realist, practical and earthy flair. It has the wisdom of a seasoned churchman who knows well the weal and warts of Catholic culture, who has a refined grasp of the principles of discerning God’s will in daily life, who is able to get at the simplicity of faith in the midst of the complexity of life, who loves to draw from diverse sources of wisdom that demonstrate the kaleidoscopic character of catholic Truth, and who locates joy, again and again, as the preeminent sign of spiritual vitality. #32:
Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy.
I must say, with a bit of weariness, in the midst of an ecclesial culture rife with cutting bitterness, caustic cynicism and joyless anger, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. I said in a class I taught on this document in May, “If you want to rightly assess the teaching of Pope Francis, first spend a full year immersed in this document, striving to live its vision out to the limits of your strength, and only then dare to return to his pontificate and critically reflect.”
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…